Arpaio's Sweep of the West Valley Could Turn Judge Snow's Order Into a Paper Tiger

When it comes to duplicity, Lance Armstrong, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and the Roman god Janus got nothin' on Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Here's a for-instance: State Senator Steve Gallardo, a Democrat and fierce critic of Arpaio's, tells me that since April, one of the sheriff's latest hires, Miryam Gutier-Elm, has tried to get Gallardo to break bread with the octogenarian autocrat.

Earlier this year, Gutier-Elm, a lobbyist by trade and daughter of Governor Jan Brewer's director of Highway Safety, Alberto Gutier, was brought on part time by the Sheriff's Office to perform outreach to the Latino community.

And Gallardo is one of those to whom Gutier-Elm's been reaching out.

"She's been coming to my office, trying to set up a lunch [with Arpaio]," says Gallardo. "And I ain't having lunch with him."

In fact, during a recent visit by Arpaio to the Capitol, the sheriff himself buttonholed Gallardo, asking if they could do a meal at one of the sheriff's fave Italian eateries.

"I laughed and blew him off," Gallardo says.

A nearby reporter wanted to grab a photo of the two men. Arpaio was game.

"He actually tried to get close to me," Gallardo says. "I said, 'Oh, no, no, no, no. There will be no photo-ops.'"

The sheriff's attempt to schmooze him was the first thing to come to mind when Arpaio announced a major "crime-suppression" operation last week to take place in an area of the West Valley that encompasses Gallardo's district. Which just happens to be 68 percent Latino.

"Here, this SOB is supposedly trying to make inroads with the Hispanic community," says Gallardo. "Then he does a sweep in my district.

"This is the perfect example of why no one in the Latino community should be sitting down talking to this guy. Pisses me off."

Gallardo witnessed one stop during the sweep, when the MCSO pulled over a Latino teen for a routine traffic violation. He said it was notable because he almost never sees MCSO vehicles in his district.

That stop would have been one of 394 "contacts" with the public made by the MCSO during the two-day sweep, which Arpaio insisted had to do with gangs and guns and the August killing of an MCSO detention officer in the West Valley.

Never mind that the Phoenix Police Department arrested the alleged shooter of that detention officer last month. This was Arpaio's excuse to engage in a sweep like the ones that brought on the ACLU's civil rights lawsuit, Melendres v. Arpaio, to begin with.

The suit resulted in a trial in 2012 and a ruling in May of this year in which federal Judge G. Murray Snow found Arpaio and the MCSO guilty of racial profiling and widespread prejudiced policing toward Latinos, involving violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

Snow ordered an end to it, then ordered both sides in the suit to come up with a plan to make his decision a reality and transform Arpaio's office — still riddled with unprofessional and illegal practices — into a legit law enforcement agency.

The parties agreed on some issues, but not all, so Snow laid down the law October 2 with a 59-page final order, outlining in detail what Arpaio and the MCSO have to do to comply with the U.S. Constitution.

This "permanent injunction" included everything from extensive retraining for deputies and posse members to cameras in patrol cars to a Community Advisory Board to an independent court-appointed monitor, who will oversee the radical changes that must take place if the MCSO is to wean itself off its addiction to bigotry.

There also are specific instructions regarding any "significant operation . . . involving 10 or more MCSO personnel."

The Sheriff's Office must develop a "standard template" for such operations as well as a detailed operations plan, both of which must be submitted for review by the monitor.

Within 30 days after an operation, the MCSO must provide to the monitor and the plaintiffs extensive data on who was stopped by deputies and why.

Specific data-collection methods are spelled out in the rest of the order, some of which the MCSO has not yet begun to practice.

The MCSO also is supposed to hold a community outreach meeting, in cooperation with the community advisory board, no more than 30 days after an operation.

None of these mechanisms are in place. There is no community advisory board. The MCSO has not undergone retraining. And, most importantly, there probably will not be a monitor appointed until sometime in December, at the earliest.

Snow did allow for the possibility of a large-scale operation in the interim, assuming there were "exigent circumstances," a fancy term meaning an emergency involving "imminent threat of death or bodily harm."

So what was the emergency?

"I'm sending a message," Arpaio said at a press conference during the sweep. "You don't go around killing my officers."

Actually, the real message Joe was sending was to Snow — letting the judge know who's boss.

In neither case is "sending a message" an "exigent circumstance." Moreover, in a press release issued as the sweep started, Arpaio stated that the planning for it had been going on since August.

Meaning, once again, there was no emergency.

Arpaio lawyer Tim Casey did file "a proposed written protocol" under seal with the court. A couple of days following the sweep, the 64-page document was unsealed by Snow. Needless to say, there were no "exigent circumstances" described.

"We did our operation to conform with the court's ruling," Joe claimed to the press. "I think we did a pretty good job . . . So I'm not concerned about being in violation [of Snow's order]."

Arpaio also falsely claimed that the plaintiffs' lawyers [specifically the ACLU] were okay with the sweep.

In fact, a few hours after the plaintiffs learned that Arpaio was going to do an operation, the plaintiffs' lead attorney, Stanley Young, filed a statement with the court saying Arpaio was "circumventing" the court's order.

Young did not ask Snow for an injunction to stop the sweep before it began, but instead urged Snow to "carefully consider whether the planned operation complies with the court's order."

When I asked ACLU staff attorney Dan Pochoda why the plaintiffs didn't go for an injunction, he told me they didn't have all the information on what Arpaio was doing at that time.

Plaintiffs' attorneys are reviewing the situation, Pochoda said. The ACLU could ask that Snow find Arpaio in contempt of court.

Interestingly, the plaintiffs' lawyers recently told the court that they estimate their fees and expenses will equal $7.3 million. That's a small part of the price tag we must pay because the MCSO racially profiled Latinos and lost a lawsuit brought because of it.

Losers pay attorney fees in federal court. And, thanks to Arpaio, county taxpayers are the losers.

Meanwhile, Arpaio is promising more sweeps, which, like this one, surely will sow fear and resentment in the Latino community and increase the county's liability.

Pro-immigrant activist Lydia Guzman had several crews of legal observers out during both days of the sweep. She said most of those pulled over and intimidated were Latino families, not gang-bangers.

Indeed, out of the 394 MCSO contacts, only eight people got booked into jail, while there were 127 citations.

The MCSO's stats also suggest "37 arrests," but 29 of those individuals were cited and released, according to an MCSO spokesman.

At a hearing before Snow this summer, Arpaio attorney Casey promised the court that the era of the sweeps was over.

Now that they are back, Snow must bare his fangs or risk getting played by a two-faced tyrant, one who snuggles up to Latinos even as he's persecuting them.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons